Tuesday, July 22, 2014

There's a Fine Crop of Candidates! I'm Excited.

Unofficial lists of candidates are in for all of the local school districts (here) and I am sure I will have more analysis later, but for now I can say that we have a terrific group of candidates for the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti schools.

In Ann Arbor, there are 

10 candidates for 4 positions, including two incumbent board members.

What's more, I think all 10 are really good candidates. I haven't vetted them all yet, so I'm not sure to what extent I agree or don't agree with their positions, but I do know that most of them have been invested in/following/volunteering in the Ann Arbor schools and the actions of the school board over the past few years.

Thank you,
Patricia Manley
Don Wilkerson
Christine Stead
Jack Panitch
Donna Lasinski
Susan Baskett
Roland Zullo
Jeffery Harrold
Hunter Van Valkenburgh
Deirdre Piper

In Ypsilanti, there are

4 candidates running for 2 full six-year spots.
8 candidates running for 3 partial four-year spots.
6 candidates running for 2 partial two-year spots.
(Remember, because this is the first time the board is being voted for, all seats are up for grabs and they had to be staggered.)

It's nice to see so much faith/willingness to roll up their sleeves and work for the future of the Ypsilanti Community Schools.

Thank you,

For the full six-year term (two spots available)
Brenda Meadows
Maria Sheler-Edwards
Gregory Myers
Bill Kurkjian

For the partial four-year term (three spots available)
Anthony VanDerworp
David Bates
Djeneba Cherif
Celeste Hawkins
Linda Snedecar-Horne
Ellen Champagne
Sharon Irvine
Mark Wilde

For the partial two-year term (two spots available)
Daniel Raglin
Don Garrett Jr.
KJ Miller
Sharon Lee
Ricky Jefferson
Meredith Schindler

As for the other school districts, it looks like the following districts will have uncontested elections.
Chelsea, Dexter, Milan, Saline

Lincoln has 4 candidates for 3 positions:
Jennifer Czachorski, Tommy Burdette, Jennifer LaBombarbe, Thomas Rollins

Manchester has 4 candidates for 3 positions:
Michael Austin, Rebecca Harvey, Dara Psarouthakis, Jill Corwin

Whitmore Lake has 4 candidates for 2 positions:
Kalyndra Craven, James Vibbart, Anne Iaquinto, Lisa McCully
(Given the proposal to have Ann Arbor annex Whitmore Lake schools, this may be a race to watch if the candidates do not all have the same position.)

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

YCS Citizens Finally Get to Choose a School Board--Who's Running?

Because of recent changes to state law, we only get to vote for school board members every two years. And because of the Ypsilanti/Willow Run schools merger, in the last two year cycle the citizens of the respective districts voted for their own school board members, and then also voted to consolidate.

So the new school board trustees were not seated, and due to the consolidation, a combined school board was appointed by the Washtenaw Intermediate School Board.

And so, for the past year and a half, Ypsilantians have had an appointed, not elected, school board.

Therefore, it's a rather momentous occasion that in November of 2014, they will be able to elect a school board for the first time.

I imagine you know what that means. There have to be some candidates, right? I'm hoping that there will be more than a few candidates. [That is not always true. It's not like the job pays very much, and the hours are fairly long.]

In the case of Ypsilanti, because it is the first time that there has been an elected school board, and everyone will be elected at once, and the board terms are six years long, some of the positions are partial terms (2 and 4 years).

Candidates have until July 22nd (that's next week) at 4 p.m. to file their petitions or pay their money. From the County Clerk's web site:

By 4:00 p.m., July 22, 2014 Local School Board candidates and Community College Trustee candidates who wish to seek office at the November general election file an Affidavit of Identity and a nonpartisan nominating petition. (A $100.00 nonrefundable fee may be filed in lieu of a petition.) Withdrawal deadline elapses at 4:00 p.m. on July 25.
There is also an unofficial list, on the county clerk's web site, of people who are likely candidates for office.

So in Ypsilanti, who has already indicated interest in running?

Running. [For office, of course.]
Taken from
under a Creative Commons license.

[Before I tell you, note that this may be a partial list. Looking at the Ann Arbor list, I have heard of people running who are not yet on the list.]

Ypsilanti Community Schools - Board Member - Regular 6 Year Term

Vote for two

NameMailing AddressPhoneE-mail
Brenda Meadows410 N. Harris Rd.
Ypsilanti, MI 48198
Maria Sheler-Edwards51 Colony Ct.
Ypsilanti, MI 48197

Maria Sheier-Edwards is on the current appointed YCS board. Brenda Meadows is not.

Ypsilanti Community Schools - Board Member - Partial Term ending 12/31/2018

Vote for three

NameMailing AddressPhoneE-mail
Anthony VanDerworp1309 Kingwood
Ypsilanti, MI 48197
David R. Bates1208 Pearl St.
Ypsilanti, MI 48197
Djeneba Cherif948 Jefferson St.
Ypsilanti, MI 48197

Anthony VanDerworp and David Bates are on the current YCS appointed board. Djeneba Cherif is not.

Ypsilanti Community Schools - Board Member - Partial Term ending 12/31/2016

Vote for two

NameMailing AddressPhoneE-mail
Daniel L. Raglin6825 Textile Rd.
Ypsilanti, MI 48197

Daniel Raglin is on the current YCS appointed board. There is currently only one candidate listed as running for the two-year team.

I have heard a lot of grumbling over the past year and a half about the fact that the school board was appointed. This is not the fault of the WISD, or the Ypsilanti or Willow Run school boards--it was all a result of the decisions of the state legislature.

BUT--Ypsi peeps--don't you want more candidates? If the election only has three candidates for three slots (etcetera), that's not much of an election, is it? It's more like a walk in the park...

So consider running yourself, or recruiting someone to run. There's still (a little) time.

[Ann Arbor peeps--I have heard of several people who are running, so I'm pretty sure there will be a contested election. I don't know if that's true for other local elections--Lincoln, Saline, etc. because none of them at this point look like they will be contested, and I hope they will be.]

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Introducing a New Contributor, and a New Organization!

New Contributor

I am very excited to introduce a new guest blogger to Ann Arbor Schools Musings!

We'll be calling this teacher A3 Teacher, because he teaches in Ann Arbor, and would like to remain Anonymous.  For now I'll just tell you that he has several years of teaching under his belt, both in Ann Arbor and outside of Ann Arbor.


New Organization

For his first blog post, A3 Teacher would like to feature a new organization:

Michigan Teachers and Allies for Change meeting this Thursday

A new grassroots group organized by local teachers, families, and community members has begun in Southeastern Michigan  The group is called Michigan Teachers and Allies for Change (M-TAC for short) and in about a week and a half the group has swelled to just over 430 Facebook likes.  Following the recent investigative articles published by the Detroit Free Press on charter schools and the onslaught of for-profit schools in Michigan, this group seeks to inform citizens on the realities of public education in Michigan in order to best help students.  This non-partisan group is focused on positive action, both locally and at the state level.  

The group’s Facebook page states the description of the group as the following:

We are a grassroots group of teachers and allies working on behalf of public education. We are devoted to turning the tide against the for-profit and political forces in order to refocus our state's resources on students. We are dedicated to raising awareness and taking action based on what is best for our communities.

The group is holding an informational meeting in Ann Arbor on the evening on Thursday, July 10th at 6:00 p.m. for teachers, families, and allies of public education.  David Arsen, a professor at Michigan State University’s School of Education, as well as State Board of Education president John Austin will speak for portions of the meeting.  If you haven’t yet read David Arsen’s Open Letter to Governor Snyder, it is an interesting and powerful read.  Additionally, John Austin’s Michigan Economic Center recently released a short promotional film titled The Michigan Dream at Risk.  

Interested in the new organization? Check out the Facebook page or RSVP to the Thursday event here.  

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Sunday, July 6, 2014

Schools: Plus Ça Change Plus C'est la Même Chose*

*The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Last week I wrote about Freedom Schools and the Freedom School curriculum, and I was looking for an Ann Arbor connection.

Didn't find a direct one (although if I had actually visited the Ann Arbor library I am sure I would have). I did find this interesting article in the aadl.org "Old News" section at oldnews.aadl.org.

I was looking for information on Freedom Summer Schools and I found that in 1971 Ann Arbor had a Black Liberation School.

"Members of the Black Liberation School staff requested permission to use the facilities of Northside school this summer without paying rent," arguing that they were serving the Northside school district.

[Was anyone who read this a part of that? Please post some information about the Black Liberation School in the comments!]

But also, there were many things that sound like the themes of the Ann Arbor school board meetings today: budget cuts, layoffs and resignations. When more people resigned than expected, Superintendent Westerman (who still lives in Ann Arbor and is on the Blue Ribbon Advisory Panel) told the school board, "We now have some freedom not anticipated to extend invitations to more of the probationary staff that were sent termination notices."

A citizen argued for transportation services to low-income students. "It is inhumane for the board to not at least give some assistance to these students." 

Last, but not least, the board recognized the retirements of custodians Clifford Bryant and Mikkel Thomsen, "for serving 'our school system with great loyalty and distinction.'"

Screen shot of a June 17, 1971 Ann Arbor News story.
Found online at: http://oldnews.aadl.org/taxonomy/term/48518

I would be remiss, I think, if I didn't mention that the Ann Arbor District Library has a wonderful summer game, which you can play both off-line and on-line, and can be found at: play.aadl.org.

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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Freedom Summer (50 Years Old) and Independence Day Thoughts

I was trying to think of an appropriate blog post in honor of Independence Day, when I heard on the radio that this summer is the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer.

Ahhh. Something I know a little bit about. Something highly meaningful. Something with an interesting curriculum!

What was Freedom Summer? According to the Congress of Racial Equality:

Freedom Summer was a highly publicized campaign in the Deep South to register blacks to vote during the summer of 1964.
During the summer of 1964, thousands of civil rights activists, many of them white college students from the North, descended on Mississippi and other Southern states to try to end the long-time political disenfranchisement of African Americans in the region. Although black men had won the right to vote in 1870, thanks to the Fifteenth Amendment, for the next 100 years many were unable to exercise that right. White local and state officials systematically kept blacks from voting through formal methods, such as poll taxes and literacy tests, and through cruder methods of fear and intimidation, which included beatings and lynchings. The inability to vote was only one of many problems blacks encountered in the racist society around them, but the civil-rights officials who decided to zero in on voter registration understood its crucial significance as well the white supremacists did. An African American voting bloc would be able to effect social and political change.Freedom Summer officials also established 30 "Freedom Schools" in towns throughout Mississippi to address the racial inequalities in Mississippi's educational system. Mississippi's black schools were invariably poorly funded, and teachers had to use hand-me-down textbooks that offered a racist slant on American history. Many of the white college students were assigned to teach in these schools, whose curriculum included black history, the philosophy of the Civil Rights Movement, and leadership development in addition to remedial instruction in reading and arithmetic. The Freedom Schools had hoped to draw at least 1000 students that first summer, and ended up with 3000. The schools became a model for future social programs like Head Start, as well as alternative educational institutions.Freedom Summer activists faced threats and harassment throughout the campaign, not only from white supremacist groups, but from local residents and police. Freedom School buildings and the volunteers' homes were frequent targets; 37 black churches and 30 black homes and businesses were firebombed or burned during that summer, and the cases often went unsolved. More than 1000 black and white volunteers were arrested, and at least 80 were beaten by white mobs or racist police officers. But the summer's most infamous act of violence was the murder of three young civil rights workers, a black volunteer, James Chaney, and his white coworkers, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner. On June 21, Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner set out to investigate a church bombing near Philadelphia, Mississippi, but were arrested that afternoon and held for several hours on alleged traffic violations. Their release from jail was the last time they were seen alive before their badly decomposed bodies were discovered under a nearby dam six weeks later. Goodman and Schwerner had died from single gunshot wounds to the chest, and Chaney from a savage beating. (Emphasis added.)

Wait--there was a Freedom Schools Curriculum?

Yes--they took themselves seriously! There was a full and interesting curriculum.
The Freedom Schools met across the state of Mississippi, and you can access the curriculum right here.
Details of the curriculum and PDFs can be found here.

Take a Look

Here is a short excerpt from Unit IV: Introducing the Power Structure.

Concept: That there are many kinds of power we could use to build a better society. What is power? (Power is the ability to move things.) What kinds of power are there? Discuss.

MississippiPolice state
One party
No vote
Unjust laws
Citizens Council
control, banks, jobs etc

Physical Power(Power to coerce or frighten)

Political Power
(Power to influence)

Economic Power
(Power to buy)
Freedom MovementFederal intervention
Convention Challenge
Negro candidates

Do these “powers” balance each other? Do they succeed in bringing the two sides together or do they tend to pull apart? Are there other kinds of power?

Truth Power
(Power to Convince or Persuade)
Does persuasion pull people apart? Is it a different kind of power? Can we use truth to reveal the lies and myths? What happens once they are revealed? Once someone is convinced or persuaded, can they join with us? Is the better world for them too?

Soul Power
(The Power to Love)
Can you love everyone like you love your family or your friends? What does compassion mean? Is that a kind of love? Is there something in other people that is like what is in you? Can soul power change things? How?

The Freedom Schools had a convention in August 1964, and this was the Education Platform that resulted. A lot of it will sound familiar!

     In an age where machines are rapidly replacing manual labor, job opportunities and economic security increasingly require higher levels of education. We therefore demand:
1. Better facilities in all schools. These would include textbooks, laboratories, air conditioning, heating, recreation, and lunch rooms.
2. A broader curriculum including vocational subjects and foreign languages.
3. Low fee adult classes for better jobs.
4. That the school year consist of nine (9) consecutive months.
5. Exchange programs and public kindergarten.
6. Better qualified teachers with salaries according to qualification.
7. Forced retirement (women 62, men 65).
8. Special schools for mentally retarded and treatment and care of cerebral palsy victims.
9. That taxpayers’ money not be used to provide private schools.
10. That all schools be integrated and equal throughout the country.
11. Academic freedom for teachers and students.
12. That teachers be able to join any political organization to fight for Civil Rights without fear of being fired.
13. That teacher brutality be eliminated.

Why do I share all of this? 

Two reasons.

1. From the editors of Education and Democracy,

The Freedom School Curriculum is one of the best examples of an effective progressive curriculum whose goal was to give students academic as well as democratic citizenship skills.  This site includes the original curriculum with supporting primary source materials, a brief historical context (editor’s introduction) and suggestions for how to use the FSC as curriculum today. Among those that we hope will find this material helpful are people starting modern freedom schools, high school and middle school teachers as well as progressive historians and teacher educators.
Photo by Tom Arthur. Used under a Creative Commons license.
Found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voting#mediaviewer/File:Voting_United_States.jpg

2. It's Independence Day this week. While we are out celebrating with fireworks, popsicles, parades and barbecues, let's not forget that a lot of the history of this big and beautiful country rests on the right to vote. The original "tea party" wasn't about "no taxation." It was about "no taxation without representation." Voting--it's something we shouldn't take for granted.


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Thursday, June 26, 2014

4 Reasons Why You Will Mostly See New Custodians in the Ann Arbor Schools Next Year

With the rapid privatization and outsourcing of custodial services in the Ann Arbor schools to GCA (assuming that goes through), you can expect that most of us will not see the same custodians in our schools in the fall.

Here are 4 reasons why.

1. Some of them will retire.

2. Some of them are very angry at the way they have been treated by the school system, particularly given the fact that they have taken pay cuts over the last few years, and they were given very very little notice that this would happen. Some of them would therefore prefer to take unemployment and look for other jobs.

I spoke to someone in that situation. She said to me, "I bought a house in Ann Arbor, I pay Ann Arbor school taxes, and now I'm treated this way?"

3. Most custodians would have their pay cut if they go to GCA Services--not to mention that they will lose their retirement benefits in any case.

4. It is not in GCA's interest to hire the majority of the custodians back. One person told me--I have not verified this yet--that if they hired more than 50% of the custodians back they would need to recognize the AFSCME union. (Even if this is not true, though, it is obviously true that if the custodians were happy with their union, the more custodians they hire from the union shop the more likely the custodians are to try and organize. GCA is recognized as fairly negative to unions, so that is not something they will want to do.)

[See, for instance:  GCA Services Enters Federal Consent Decree to Remedy Wide Ranging Accusations of Labor Law Violations]

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014, some of the labor groups held a press conference before the school board meeting. You can listen to what custodian Toni Lemons had to say here.

[I think you will have to download it. This was my first try at embedding an audio file but I am not yet wholly successful.]

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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Guest Post! Helen Keller and Education for People Who Are Blind: Ann Arbor Library Exhibit

I was on my way into the main branch of the Ann Arbor District Library for this school board meeting when I noticed that there was an interesting exhibit.

Hall Braille Writer. Picture by Patti Smith.

The Exhibit & My Interest in Helen Keller

Called Child in a Strange Country: Helen Keller and the History of Education for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired, the exhibit is up through Wednesday, June 25th (coincidentally, the next school board meeting), in both the lobby and on the third floor of the library. So yes--that means you can see the exhibit before you go into the school board meeting! Convenient, huh?

Most people don't know that I have had a special interest in Helen Keller ever since Skyline High School did The Miracle Worker as its very first play, when everybody in the school was a ninth grader. My daughter played the role of Annie Sullivan, and as a result, I learned a lot about Helen Keller.

Guest Blogger Reviews the Exhibit--With Pictures, Too!

"Wait," I thought--"I know somebody who teaches children with visual impairments, and she's a blogger. I wonder if she would review this for me? And she did, and she took pictures, too! 

About the guest blogger: Patti Smith is a special education teacher of the visually impaired and learning disabled. She lives in Ann Arbor with her fiance and their two cats. She also blogs at teacherpatti.com.

Thank you, Patti! And I hope the rest of you enjoy the review and pictures, and then are motivated to go see the exhibit.

One of the things that I do in my job as a special education teacher is to try to show people what it is like to have a disability. Of course, a ten-minute demonstration in no way compares to a lifelong condition, but it’s often an eye-opening experience for the participant.

Moon Type. Picture by Patti Smith.
Because I work with students who are visually impaired (and some who are deaf-blind), I am often asked about Helen Keller. Most people have seen the movie and remember the “water, Helen, water” scene at the end. What many people don’t know is that Helen lived a very full life—meeting with presidents, becoming an advocate for women’s rights, having deep and fulfilling relationships, and traveling around the world. Perhaps most importantly, she taught the world that students with disabilities can be taught and can go on to do great things.

Currently, the Ann Arbor District Library has an exhibit on Ms. Keller. On loan from the American Printing House for the Blind, the exhibit features a brief history on Helen’s life as well as a larger display of the educational tools that are used to teach students who are blind and visually impaired.

A Braille slate writer. Picture by Patti Smith.
The exhibit features everything from the earliest tactile books to the latest Braille writers. The original tactile books were raised letters embossed on paper. In the early 1800s, Boston Line Type was developed by Samuel Gridley Howe. This system used angular Roman letters and did not capitalize its words. Around the same time the Lucas Type was developed, using a raised system of straight lines, curved lines, and dots that was based on shorthand. William Moon developed a system that reduced words to their simplest forms and read from left to right on one line, right to left on the next. These codes, while useful for reading, all shared the same problem—there was no simple way to write using any of them.

A tactile modern puzzle map of the U.S. from 2001.
Picture by Patti Smith.
The raised dot code known as the Braille Code eventually became the standard system for people who are blind. One could both read and write using the six dot code. This code includes all letters of the alphabet, numbers, scientific notation and math (the Nemeth Code), and almost 200 short form words and contractions.

Seeing this exhibit reminded me of how far we have comes in terms of special education. In Helen’s day, most students with disabilities were not educated. Today, we have students who are deaf-blind sitting in classrooms alongside their peers and learning the appropriate curriculum. It’s cliché to say “you’ve come a long way, baby," but if the shoe fits….

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Why Play Nice, Play Fair? No Need In Right-to-Work (For Less) Michigan

Last week, a lot of bad stuff happened at the Ann Arbor school board meeting.

The two most disturbing actions?

1. The school board voted to outsource the custodians' positions to GCA Services (owned by the private equity firm Blackstone) effective July 1, 2014. Yup, that's a fortnight from now. (Trustees Lightfoot and Baskett voted against this.)

2. The school board voted that if the teachers didn't accept a salary freeze through a Memorandum of Agreement (union/board) by July 23, 2014 (that's Monday), the school board would terminate the union contract. This would have the effect of freezing the current wages and at the same time, when the contract was (presumably) renegotiated, many of the terms and conditions in the would not be allowed under the new work rules in Michigan--in particular, tenure and seniority rules. This measure was approved unanimously.

Welcome to the brave new world of school funding cuts and more cuts.
Welcome to the brave new world of a right-to-work state and union busting.
Welcome to the brave new world of taking our tax dollars and using them to fund for-profit, private firms.

State Funding

In better news: at the board meeting, Christine Stead did a nice job of explaining the vagaries of state funding (the conference committee budget basically hobbles Ann Arbor, Dexter, Saline, Ypsilanti Community Schools, and some others) and helps a few local school districts (the lowest-funded districts, like Milan, Whitmore Lake, and I believe Manchester). The state budget also sends a lot of money to for-profit charters and virtual schools, which get $175 in additional funding per pupil vs. $50 for Ann Arbor. [On Stead's blog, you can read about the AAPS presentation this week to the State Board of Education as well as some proposals for ways to improve school funding.] Their ideas--good ideas--are to have charter schools also have to pay state retirement, and to allow local school districts to ask for local tax levies for operations--currently that is not allowed under state law. And the district did join the superintendents of other districts in a press conference that day. Ann Arbor is a huge donor district (most of the taxes we raise go to support other districts) and yet we are getting the lowest increases in funding.


Anyway--back to the custodians.

In 2010, during another round of privatization discussions (we've been through this with food service and transportation, remember) I posted this on this blog:

At the budget meeting that I went to, several people at my table raised concerns about privatization. They wondered what the actual (not projected) savings were when the food service was privatized (the facilitator didn't know). They talked about how satisfaction (on the part of people who eat the lunches) had gone down. And they wondered about the effects on the "lunch ladies."
"Well," our facilitator said, "I believe that the new company hired everyone who wanted to be hired, for the same wages, and the only thing they lost was retirement benefits."
It's more than a little bit troubling to hear someone who makes more than $100,000/year (the facilitator referred to above is an AAPS administrator) talk about someone who is living on $25,000/year and say "they only lost retirement benefits." I'm pretty sure if I talked about yanking her retirement, she would be pretty upset, and she's not living near the poverty level.

Retirement costs, in fact, are the main reason for privatizing (since the custodians already gave major concessions a couple of years ago). Basically, if somebody is an AAPS employee, AAPS has to pay their retirement costs (state law)--and if they are not, they don't.

I found Jeanice Swift's letter to Ann Arbor parents about the custodian privatization to be disingenuous. [Read it here--with my comments.] I'm still not clear why she felt she needed to respond to the emails she and the board were getting about custodians losing their jobs and face pay cuts with "everyone gets an interview" and "pay cuts will not be as significant as perceived." An interview is not a job, and if you only make $25,000 a year and you get a 10% pay cut plus lose your retirement? I think that's pretty significant. Saying, "all the other districts are doing it too?" My parents didn't take that as a good reason to do or not do something. Speaking for myself, I'd prefer the honesty of  a letter that said simply, "this sucks and it's because of the state legislature's decisions, and we are trying to keep the cuts away from the classroom."

The other very disturbing piece of this has to do with the timing. The outsourcing was approved by the board as a special briefing. Any time you see the words "special briefing" you know that means that they are not following their own approved process. They are rushing things through. While I feel O.K. about that for ordering the Huron High School band uniforms, which would be done anyway and for which the money was already set aside (another item on the agenda), I'm not O.K. with that for decisions like outsourcing custodians. [I've written about this before in the Ann Arbor Chronicle. I'm starting to see a pattern here.]

The custodians had come to the school board with a proposal for a worker-owned co-op, and the board--with straight faces--tried to tell them that if they had only proposed that a little earlier...oh gee they really wished they could do it but their counsel told them that since the RFP had closed they couldn't...

Since it's a special briefing item, though, you know the board was working on a ridiculously short timeline. The union was told about the RFP and the agenda item less than a week before the RFP made it on the agenda.  The RFP was posted for only a week. How long do you think the top 3 companies knew that the RFP was coming? A different timeline could have led to a different result.

[By the way, teacher Chloe Root has started a petition out asking the board to reconsider. Sign it here.]


How about those teachers? 

We might describe the resolution passed by the school board as a Faustian bargain--on the part of the district.

Last year, with Superintendent Pat Green, the AAEA (teachers' union) agreed to a salary freeze, advertised as "one year only." At the time, I wondered about that--figuring that the state's school aid fund probably wasn't going to look better next year, so why make a one-year only plan? But Pat Green was on her way out, and I believe she only cared about getting the budget out the door, whatever it looked like. I don't know what the teachers' union was thinking.

In any case, Jeanice Swift walked into a situation where now she had to ask the teachers to again take a salary freeze, and my guess is that the teachers' union was not too happy about that. There is, really, an alternative to a salary freeze though--and it's having larger class sizes. Parents wouldn't be too happy about that, we already know it is one reason people have left the school district, but it exists.

Apparently, the teachers' union has not been all that willing to concede the salary freeze again. And yes, it's true that the teachers have had many types of cutbacks for many years. So after going into executive session, the school board came out and voted--unanimously--to terminate the teacher contract unless the teachers agree to having a total wage freeze, as agreed to by a Memorandum of Agreement by this Monday, June 23d. Under termination, teachers still get the a wage freeze, but lose some of the items in the contract.

And here's where Faust comes in--maybe. Several things have changed in state law in the past couple of years, including right-to-work and some changes in the teacher tenure law. There are items in the contract that cannot be retained if the teachers' union loses this contract and starts a new contract--primarily around tenure, seniority, and right to work/union dues.

So the school board--and the Superintendent--are essentially bullying the teachers and forcing the teachers to say "uncle." But that's at the risk of having much worse relations with the teachers in the future. Could this have been avoided?

Maybe it's not such a risk. I have a perception that the teachers' union is dispirited and disorganized. Expect the number of retirements to rise...


Let's Privatize the Teachers

Now if you are wondering: why don't they just privatize the teachers? Could they privatize the teachers? That's what the charter schools do. Retirement costs are the main driver of the reason to privatize, right? The districts  have already outsourced the substitute teachers, the food service workers, the school bus drivers... Everybody knows the "first they came for the Socialists" passage by Pastor Martin Niemoller, right?

They would, probably, if they could--and maybe soon they will be able to.

But for now, they can't. I had to ask Steve Norton of Michigan Parents for Schools about this--and it turns out that he had been wondering too, and had looked it up (thank you Steve for being an education policy wonk!!). This is an excerpt from his email, and my takeaway is that "the devil is in the details."

Under current law, school districts must hire teachers directly - i.e., teachers must be direct employees of the school district. The language is a consequence of this part of the revised school code:
380.1231 Hiring of teachers; teachers' contracts generally.Sec. 1231.
(1) The board of a school district shall hire and contract with qualified teachers....
Unlike other sections that cover background checks, etc, this section does not mention or include public school academies (charters). In the sections that create charters, they are given explicit permission to hire outside individuals or firms to provide comprehensive services to and operate the charter. Thus, outside management companies may be hired by charters to run the schools, including hiring teachers.
In an attorney general opinion from 1997 (? I think), the AG determined that direct employees of any school board, including the boards of charter schools, MUST participate in MPSERS. However, contract employees MAY NOT participate in MPSERS. 
Since charters are allowed to contract out instructional services, they can avoid paying into MPSERS on those employees. Local school districts are not allowed to do that, and so they must therefore pay into MPSERS for teachers and all direct employees. 
This is the reason that even "self-managed" charters like Ann Arbor Learning Community technically "lease" their employees from a private firm, which allows them to classify teachers as contract employees and thus avoid paying into MPSERS on their behalf. Very, very, few charters participate in MPSERS. 
By the way, the original version of the charter uncapping bill, SB 618 of 2011, included a new section (section 1231A), which would have allowed local school districts to contract out for teachers. That provision was not removed until the bill got to the Senate floor, as part of a compromise to get it passed. (Emphasis added.)



I dream a world, where those same cuts need to happen, but the district shares the possibility with the custodians that this might happen three months in advance. Then the custodians have time to organize the employee-owned co-op. They lose their retirement, but they get to maintain their dignity. We get to keep our money from going to fund yet another for-profit business. That requires the timing to be different, and I believe it could have been different.

I dream a world, where the district asks the teachers' union to find those same cuts as a salary freeze or in some other way, and gives the union time to figure that out.

I dream a world where the district's timelines for working with employees are more reasonable, and where the district doesn't try to hide things from the public, or push important items through on special briefings...

Wait--that's not my REAL dream.

In my REAL dreams, all schools are adequately funded, Michigan is not a right-to-work-for-less state, AND the school board uses reasonable timelines.

That first set of dreams? They could be a reality, if the school board and the superintendent would decide to treat their employees with respect, and not as commodities.


Lingering Question

Was this a conscious choice on Jeanice Swift's part, to shorten timelines in order to keep the public and the employees out of the process? Or did everything take longer than she thought it would and with a new finance person and her first budget, everything got done at the last possible minute?

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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Consider Running for School Board

Did you like what the AAPS Board decided about the budget, the custodians, or anything last night? (I have no idea at the time of this writing what they decided...) Do you want the power to influence the direction the school board takes?

Maybe you should consider being a school board candidate.

Board of Education Prospective AAPS Candidate Information Meeting - June 12, 6pm

The Ann Arbor Public Schools will have four seats open on the Board of Education - four year teams each starting January 2015. The election will be held on Tuesday, November 4, 2014.
In Ann Arbor, prospective candidates are invited to an information session with current school board members and members of the AAPS Administration team to learn what the duties and responsibilities of a Trustee are as well as have the opportunity to ask questions of current Trustees and the Administration.

All Local School Boards: Election Information and Timeline

NOTE: This will be the very first election for Ypsilanti Community Schools! Good candidates are especially needed! 

Also note: Due to new state law, school board elections can only take place on even-year November elections, so don't miss the opportunity!

July 22, 2014 – 4pmFiling due for November Board of Education Affidavit of Identify and nonpartisan nominating petition. (A $100 nonrefundable fee may be filed in lieu of a petition)
July 25, 2014 – 4pmWithdrawal deadline
November 4, 2014Election Day

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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

AAPS Budget Vote Wednesday 6/11/2014: Custodian Outsourcing, State Budget Realities

A Packed AAPS Day on June 11: Planning, Executive, Board Meetings

This coming Wednesday, the Ann Arbor school board is expected to vote on a budget. Front and center will be the question of out-sourcing the positions of custodians.

That question finds itself on the agenda of the Planning Committee first, at 9 a.m. on the 11th.
Location: Balas Administration Building, Main Conference Room
Members: Christine Stead (Chair), Glenn Nelson, Irene Patalan
Then in the evening there is an executive session at 5 p.m. According to the agenda, the purposes of the executive session are:
Closed session of the board for the purposes of:Section 8(h) - considering material exempt from disclosure under attorney/client privilege informationSection 8(c) - strategy and negotiation sessions connected with a collective bargaining agreement, requested by the Superintendent.
 I'm not sure what is going to be part of the discussion there, but it could be related to the custodians since there is a union contract for the custodians (personnel issue) involved. And in addition, the district's budget proposal involves salary freezes for every staff person, and so really there are several unions involved.
Location: Ann Arbor District Library - 4th Floor Conference Room A
343 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor

The regular meeting will begin early, at 6 p.m.

Ann Arbor District Library - 4th Floor Conference Room A
343 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor

This meeting will be Broadcast live on CTN Comcast Channel 18
Replays: Thursday @ 1:30pm, Saturday @ 8am, Sunday @ 1pm
VIEW LIVE STREAMING: http://a2edutv.pegstream.com/

Custodians and the Expense Side of the AAPS Budget

The "fun" will begin with public comment. Right now the Custodial RFP, the Food Service RFP, and the Budget are all scheduled for special or second briefings, and then they are on the Consent Agenda. 
So, first of all:
1. The Custodian RFP has been on a very fast course. The RFPs were due on Monday and the vote is scheduled for tomorrow. The goal is to decide on the cost savings in the budget. This is a special briefing.
The Custodians, meanwhile, have come up with an idea of a "worker co-op" that would save most of the money from the budget [the bulk of the savings come from the district not having to pay for retirement costs]. In fact, the custodians assert that it "could save AAPS more money than it currently projects to save in the draft 2014-15 Budget (first reading) by eliminating 100+ AAPS jobs as there would be additional savings from not having to set aside an $200,000 for unemployment compensation currently shown in the budget."
Let's ask the school board to put the expected savings in the budget, but to table voting on the RFP to see if they can work something out with the custodians. They don't need to vote on the RFP the same night as the budget, and I have argued before that process is really important and the board shouldn't try and rush things through with "special" briefings. [And there are 4 special briefings at this meeting: the custodians' RFP; A2Tech and STEAM construction projects; the Pioneer High School cooler; and MHSAA membership resolution. Really? Do all four of those need to be special briefings?!]
Read about the custodians' idea here in their pre-proposal

2. Second of all, an astute reader noted in the comments of this blog the other day, 
Reader comment on this article:
Last Year's Candidate, Brian Osborne, Takes Superintendent Job in New Rochelle, NY

As you see, key decisions are embedded in the budget.
In any case, there is a lot to look at on the expense side of the budget. Email your thoughts to: boe@aaps.k12.mi.us

And/or show up for public commentary or to listen to the budget discussion! It's sure to be an interesting...and long...night.

On the Income Side of the Budget:

A budget was voted out of the state conference committee, 4-1, and according to Gongwer: 

This would provide a $50 per-pupil increase to all districts, with a new equity payment of up to $125 per pupil for districts with a foundation allowance less than $7,251.
The effective minimum allowance would be $7,251 with the basic at $8,099.
The budget in total is higher than what Mr. Snyder and both chambers originally suggested. It is a 4.1 percent increase from the current year budget at $13.87 billion ($114.9 million General Fund, a 51.1 percent decrease).

According to MIRS: 

And Rep. Brandon DILLON (D-Grand Rapids) said lawmakers were moving backwards. Dillon added that under the plan a cyber school in his district would see a $175 per-pupil increase while Detroit public schools would see a $50 increase. 
[As an aside--this proposal--which will probably be signed by the Governor--also says that state schools will need to use the MEAP next year, rather than Smarter Balanced. That's going to be a lot of work in a short time for Michigan Department of Education employees.]

So, I can't really tell--because I can find the agenda for the board meeting [here] BUT AT THE MOMENT THERE ARE NO DOCUMENTS ATTACHED [and yes, I am shouting because it is less than 24 hours before the meeting]--or at least if they are there I don't know where to look for them--

So, I can't really tell based on the last budget documents presented, but I *think* that the district was using the Governor's proposed budget numbers and I *think* the conference proposal is a few dollars better than that--but I'm not sure...

Tomorrow--will you be at the board meeting?

If you can't be there...will you email the board your thoughts? boe@aaps.k12.mi.us

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Sunday, June 8, 2014

Ann Arbor Chronicle Column: Students and the Body Politic

Do you spend your time thinking about what it means to have a free press?

Then you might like my latest column for the Ann Arbor Chronicle: Student Press and the Body Politic.

And in this column, I talk a lot about the Washtenaw Community College Voice, the Dexter High Squall, the Community High School Communicator, and...my hometown high school newspaper, the Rye High Garnet & Black! (I could only find links for the latter to the 2011-2012 issues.)

Let me know what you think!

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Monday, June 2, 2014

Last Year's Candidate, Brian Osborne, Takes Superintendent Job in New Rochelle, NY

Last year's superintendent candidate Brian Osborne has taken (is officially going to be offered tonight, I believe) the Superintendent's position in New Rochelle, NY.

New Rochelle is in Westchester County (my home county); has a school population that is about 45% Latino; and over 60 languages are represented in the schools.

Brian Osborne, as you may recall, was offered the superintendent of Ann Arbor position, and turned it down.

Jeanice Swift then accepted it. Which reminds me--we are coming up on her one-year anniversary now. What do you think so far? [I'm pretty happy.]


If you are interested in Brian Osborne and New Rochelle, here are some links:

From New Rochelle Talk: New Rochelle Expected to Name Brian Osborne as New Schools Superintendent (They quote my earlier post extensively.)

Maplewood Online Forum: Superintendent Brian Osborne's Resignation Letter

Maplewood Online Forum: Superintendent Leaving

And by the way--the cost of living is a lot higher in the New York suburbs, but...it looks like their last superintendent got about $279,000 in salary. That is much higher than he would have gotten here, and given the salary cap on superintendents in New Jersey, that is also much higher than he would have gotten in South Orange-Maplewood.

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Sunday, June 1, 2014

June 2014: Infographics, Podcasts, and Partners--Maybe?

June Experiments

Last June, you might recall,
I joined a post-a-day "blogathon."

I had the goals of challenging myself to see if I could do it, and also seeing if it would increase my readership. It did both. I also learned some interesting blogging tricks and ideas, and I met some bloggers internationally. (I had guest posts from Singapore and Japan!)

But--it was exhausting. I do, after all, have a full-time job and kids.

So this year I am going to give myself a slightly different challenge, because--really--the reason that I started this blog had more to do with me than with schools.

Quick recap:
I was intrigued by blogging, but didn't fully understand it.
I felt the best way to learn about blogging was to learn by doing.
I searched for a topic and landed on local schools because
a) I already knew a fair amount about them and about education in general, and
b) I felt I wouldn't run out of things to say.

But--there are some blogging techniques I have not learned yet, and since this blog is supposed to be educational for me as well as for you, during June I am going to try to:

a) create at least two infographics, and 
b) record two podcasts or videos and post them.

Maybe I'll do more, but I'm hoping this will keep things fresh and fun--and by posting this, I'm hoping to keep myself accountable. [If you are good at this stuff, let me know because I may need to ask you some questions!]

I know that you are wondering--how can I cheer Ruth on?

Well. . . comments are nice.

Also--if anyone is interested in guest posting or coming on as a regular contributor, please let me know.

If you are a regular reader, you know that I have made this offer before, but I'll just point out that:

a. My youngest child is in high school. I could really use more information about the elementary and middle schools, and I also see that my time on this blog will have a natural end. . . you may be a few years behind me.

b. I don't have any kids utilizing special education services. I never have, in fact, so everything I learn about that system is from friends. . . but maybe you do have direct experience.

c. I do have teaching certification and an education background. But I am not teaching in any local school--public, private, or charter. But maybe you are.

d. I live in Ann Arbor and my kids have attended the Ann Arbor Public Schools. Let me tell you, the Ypsilanti, Dexter, Saline, Whitmore Lake, Manchester, Chelsea, Milan and Lincoln schools are crying out for more attention. And that's without even mentioning the need for coverage of charters! I'd love more out-county coverage.

e. History. Are you a history buff? There are lots of interesting stories in the education files at the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti libraries, as well as in the local history society files. Would you like to shine a light on some of these stories?

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

AAPS Budget, Public Hearing, Rick DeKeon Wednesday May 28, 2014

Wednesday, May 28th, the Ann Arbor school board will have a public hearing on the proposed AAPS budget. The meeting starts at 7 p.m.

Here are some options:
1. Go and talk during public commentary
2. Watch the board meeting on t.v. (CTN Comcast Channel 18, and also available for online streaming, but not for on-demand replay--yet. The replay schedule is: Thursday @ 1:30pm, Saturday @ 8am, Sunday @ 1pm)
3. Email the school board with your thoughts at boe@aaps.k12.mi.us.

The board will vote on the budget at their next meeting, in two weeks.

Essential Reading

Here is the proposed AAPS 2014-2015 budget.

Here are the proposed expenditures and revenue enhancements. (Looks like a summary sheet, essentially.)

Here is the proposed budget plan. (How the budget gap will be closed.)

Compare the governor's, senate's, and house's education proposals and their impact on the AAPS budget. (There are also some slides from the new finance director--Marios Demetriou,
Assistant Superintendent, Finance and Operations--that, to be honest, I did not completely understand. Explanatory text would be nice.)

Major Proposals

How do you feel about the proposal to freeze all staff salaries, with no step or salary increases for any group? (Teachers, for example, took a 3% pay cut last year that was supposed to be a one-year pay cut. This would not be restored.)

How do you feel about the outsourcing of custodial work? (The main expected savings here has to do with the fact that the district has to pay into the state retirement fund for employees--if the positions are privatized, the state retirement fund doesn't have to be paid.)

Here are some things I've written about privatization in the past:

Transportation Lessons, 2010-2012 (February 2012)

Just Say No to Privatization (January 2010)

What do you think about Christine Stead's suggestion that the district should investigate whether there would be any possibility of suing the state for the constant cuts the district has had to make, since we are not being "held harmless?" (I LOVE IT.)

Let the school board know how you feel!

Special Bonus! 

Rick DeKeon
from a2schools.org
If you go to tomorrow's meeting. . . there is also a proposal to rename the Northside School Gym in honor of Rick DeKeon, well-loved Northside physical education teacher.

As the proposal says,

On behalf of Northside Principal, Monica Harrold, Northside staff, students, parents and alumni, it is my pleasure to present to you a recommendation, pursuant to Ann Arbor Public School Board of Education Policy 7150- Naming, to name the Northside Elementary School gym after former Ann Arbor Northside Elementary School physical education teacher and local coach Richard (Rick) Dekeon. 
Mr. Dekeon, a much beloved teacher at Northside for 25 years, passed away on November 8, 2013 leaving behind an incredible legacy that extends well beyond the Northside community.

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